We have mainly heard of repercussions for officers who have criticized the Black Lives Matter Movement, but a Springfield, Massachusetts officer has been fired for her pro-Black social media post.
Florissa Fuentes, who is a Latina woman, graduated from the Western Massachusetts Country Correctional Officer’s Training Academy as class president in 2018. Last year, she was among 18 recruits to join the Springfield Police Department. Still, Her stint as a recently promoted detective in the Special Victims Unit was short-lived when she was fired on June 19, a month after she posted a pro-Black Lives Matter image on her Instagram account.
According to Mass Live, the photo was of her niece, who was protesting in Atlanta on May 29. The image shows flames blazing in the background and her niece holding a sign that reads: “Shoot the F— Back.” Her niece’s friend held a sign beside her, which reads: “Who do we call when the murderer wears the badge.”
Even though Fuentes has been devoted to police work since a young age, her post caused widespread outrage among her co-workers.
“After I posted it, I started getting calls and texts from co-workers,” Fuentes said during an interview. “I was initially confused, but then I realized they thought I was being anti-cop. I wasn’t. I was just supporting my niece’s activism. I had no malicious intent, and I wouldn’t put a target on my own back. I’m out there on the streets every day like everyone else.”
As a result of the immediate backlash, Fuentes took it down, but shortly after, she received a call from Captain Trent Duda, head of the Detective Bureau.
“I said, ‘Cap, I already know why you’re calling. I’m sorry. I meant no malicious intent, and I already took it down, ‘” Fuentes recalled. “Capt. Duda said Commissioner Clapprood was mad and wanted to see me the next day, but hoped if I said exactly what I said to him, I should be fine.”
The single mother of three was written up for “possible” social media violations. The next day, she had to meet with Springfield Police Patrolmen Association president, Officer Joseph Gentile, and Clapprood, who told her she was upset, disappointed, embarrassed by her actions.
It was Clapprood who recently assigned Fuentes to the detective position and granted her a hardship concession that allowed her to homeschool her children during the pandemic.
“The commissioner said: ‘You have to find a way to fix this. I’m getting pressure from the mayor’s office,'” Fuentes said. “I said, ‘Ok, I’m sorry. How do I fix it?’ Officer Gentile suggested I post an apology on the police union’s Facebook page. So I went home later, and I did.” However, Clapprood denies telling Fuentes that she needed to fix the situation.
“I never told her to just fix it. That’s the issue with social media — once you post something, it’s out there, and you can’t retract it. That post was hurtful to many of her co-workers,” Clapprood said, adding that the position of detective was not actually a promotion but a way of helping Fuentes who struggled as a single mother. She also stated there was a prior issue beforehand, and Fuentes was on probation at the time of her termination.
Fuentes Facebook apology was not received well:
“To my fellow officers, I recently shared a post that a family member had posted of themselves protesting the recent death of George Floyd. I did not share this photo with any malicious intent, and I should have thought of how others might perceive it. I apologize to all of those who I have offended. I am not anti-cop. I wear my badge proudly and have committed my life and career to being a police officer.”
Some accepted it while others told her to “keep your apology… You’re too dangerous or too stupid to safely associate with,” one co-worker wrote.
She eventually removed her apology post and took the advice of her supervisors to “keep her head down” and wait out the office negativity.
In an attempt to show the department’s solidarity, Deputy Chief Rupert Daniel requested that “all sworn” officers participate in a group photo at a nearby park to show that “we are unified, diverse, and we still get along.” Some officers felt the requests was an inappropriate mandate and inconvenience.
Fuentes participated, disregarding the tension between her and fellow officers because she felt she owed it to them as well as her supervisors.
“It wasn’t my shift, but I knew I pissed a lot of people off, so I felt like I owed it to the commissioner and everyone. I was trying to make things right,” she said, claiming she endured harassment from one co-worked but smiled through the shoot.
Two hours later, she got a call from Gentile stating she had to resign or be fired. She chose to be fired.
“I felt used. The commissioner waved at me from her car while I was there. They all knew what was happening,” she said.
Unfortunately, Fuentes was a month away from tenure, which would have protected her from disciplines, including the right to appeal their cases with an arbitrator or the state Civil Service Commission.
Civil Rights activist Bishop Talbert Swan II believes Fuentes’ outcome would have been different if she were white. He also claims it does not compare with opposing sides of other local cops who have wrongfully vented on social media.
“This is apples and oranges. I doubt the outcome of this would have been the same if she was white. There is a difference in expressing an opinion that might not be popular, and an overtly racist opinion,” said Swan, who has been actively critical of the Springfield Police Department.
In her defense, a fellow anonymous co-worker said there is favoritism within the Springfield police department, and Clapprood could have extended Fuentes’s probation period rather than firing her.
“There’s a lot of officers who are afraid to speak up about this issue and don’t want to be targeted as well. … Although we agree punishment should have happened … she owned up to it immediately and said sorry, and she was sincere,” the officer said. “There are officers who lied on police reports and have done worse things, yet they remain employed.”
Fuentes is not the first Springfield public safety employee to be punished for their social media missteps. In 2018, Conrad Lariviere, a tenured police officer, was terminated after he mocked the death of a woman who killed by a man after he drove his vehicle into a Virginia anti-racism protest. An arbitrator upheld his firing. And as of recently, firefighter Joelle Martinez stepped down after he made Facebook remarks threatening to “slam people left and right” relating to his National Guard position, as he was upset that he was asked to manage protests in Boston.
Fuentes has a very challenging case ahead of her, Harris Freeman, a professor at Western New England school, believes because she is was a police officer supporting a post of people saying “shoot back.”